Elizabeth Riggio

I haven’t thought much about this word since I was 11 years old and it was practically my middle name.

And I have history with my middle name.

When I was younger, people thought I was good at soccer and that I was athletic. This was a source of pride for me. I thought it a compliment. I felt empowered to prove I could play with the boys.

When I got a little older, my feelings changed. When I played on a boys’ team, the other teams would laugh that we had a girl on our team. I was the tomboy at school because I played soccer with the boys at recess.

Sometimes I wore it like a badge, proudly displaying that I wasn’t afraid of the boys. But sometimes it made me feel like I was less feminine; like I was less of a girl because of it. As if femininity and masculinity could be categorized so easily. There were days I would sit and talk with my girl friends or play hopscotch because I wanted to seem like a normal girl.

Today, when people comment on my athleticism, it sounds like what they’re really saying is: “Wow, I didn’t expect a woman to be any good but you’re actually okay!” A man would never seem as surprised at another man’s athletic ability in the way men are surprised at a woman’s athletic ability.

So I have a letter to all these men.
To the Soccer-Playing Men of the World:

Yes, I can kick a ball.

No, it’s not that amazing.

Yeah, I might kick your ass in a game.

Please don’t get annoyed and frustrated with me.

Or deterred.

Or think there must be something wrong with you that you can’t beat a girl.

We’re both athletes, right?

Yes, I am a woman.

No, you don’t need to go easy on me.

I certainly won’t go easy on you.

I’m too competitive.

And I wouldn’t insult you like that.

The word tomboy continues to sound like:

I’m not feminine.

I’m not normal.

I’m a boy.

You can roll your eyes when I ask to play.

I’ll just roll the ball through your legs.

I hope you’re secure enough in yourself

To handle that.

You can say “no one cares about women’s soccer”

But maybe you will

When a woman scores on you.

“I’ll do it better. Know why?

Because I’m a boy.”

You’ve never played soccer.

But you already know you will be better.

Well then I guess I already know I’ll be better at cooking and cleaning.

Yeah, sometimes I cry.

At least I’m brave enough.

And sometimes I bleed.

But I don’t fake injury.

Or blame the ref.

Or stop playing.

I take it like a woman.
I’m not that good.

When a man says he’s better than any woman,

A fury unleashes inside me.

And then I hate myself

When he’s better than me too.

I couldn’t be the woman

Who shut him up.

The one who could tell him

Women are here

We are strong.